For fifty minutes on a sunny Thursday afternoon it was as if someone had grabbed my arm and pulled me back in time. At an inexpensive deli in Orange, California I was fortunate to have nearly an hour with former world champion Kel Carruthers.
After nearly a lifetime on the Grand Prix trail Carruthers has returned to the United States doing development work for Westcoast Performance, the company who runs Sea-Doo's factory personal watercraft racing team. Since I would be covering the AMA National in nearby Pomona, an interview was arranged. We walked down the street to the delicatessen and after ordering lunch, sat in the sun and talked.
The Carruthers file is rich with history. In twenty years he has tuned for Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Raymond Roche, Virginio Ferrari, Rob McElnea, Niall Mackenzie, Freddie Spencer, Martin Wimmer, Luca Cadalora, Carlos Cardus, Alberto Puig, Doriano Romboni, Gene Romero, Cal Rayborn, Gary Fisher, Skip Aksland and Jarno Saarinen. Everyone knows he once managed Yamaha's GP team with Kenny Roberts as rider, winning three world titles in the seventies, then on to the Agostini Yamaha team tuning for three of Eddie Lawson's world championships. He also went on to work with Freddie Spencer in the debacle that was 1989. From there he bounced around from one manufacturer and rider to the next: Cardus on the Honda, Chandler on the Cagiva and Romboni back on the Honda. That is the easy story to write, and one that is so often written, that Kel did some riding in the sixties, won the world championship and then went on to his real glory as a tuner.
Kel Carruthers is a rider, first and foremost. Before there was a Kenny Roberts, when Eddie Lawson wasn't much more than a late-night twinkle in his mother's eye, Kel Carruthers was one of the best riders in the world. Although he rode 500s and 350s and 125s with success, he will always be remembered as a talented and hardy 250 rider at a time when the tires were like those now used on bicycles and the tracks were all fifth gear corners.
Kel won the 250 world championship in 1969 after sitting out the first three races and having to allow his teammate to finish better than he at several rounds. After having his fill of Europe, (where he logged seven Grand Prixs wins and a total of fifteen top five finishes) and trying to come to terms with the fact that he was the only Australian world champion to survive the followng season, he came to the United States and rode 250 here (Lightweight as it was then known) as well as Formula 750 on 350cc Yamahas. He was the original AMA 250 conqueror, trouncing nearly all in the class from 1971-1973, but because the AMA didn't award championships then in Lightweight, and since they apparently don't count Lightweight wins towards the current AMA 250 win list, nobody ever talks about it. I made it clear to Carruthers that I didn't want to do the 'Kel tuning for Eddie and Kenny' story, I wanted the Kel the rider story too. He beamed with appreciation.
Carruthers is a wiry, compact man standing perhaps five foot six and weighing one hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet. One can determine that he was slight but strong enough to master a 250. He is nearly sixty years old but displays the enthusiasm for racing of a man a quarter his age. After years, hell, decades of team uniforms, Carruthers is back to the basic attire of any wrench: for our interview he wore a faded T-shirt, Levis and athletic shoes. His head is topped with a light wisp of white hair and his face exudes the character of a man who has lived a full life in the sun at the racetrack,
After all that he has accomplished in his life it would be easy for him to sit back in his chair and hold court. He did not. Carruthers revealed a likable, self-effacing sense of humor and in the end professed that he didn't really have all the answers-- when explaining that Westcoast Performance had just hired an ignition man for the team he said, "Thank God they did. I'm no ignition man. It's all just wires and buzz-boxes to me." Carruthers answered every question put to him, made only two off the record comments and spoke with a sincerity I rarely see in interview subjects.
Q. Let's start at the beginning. You were born in Sydney, Australia in 1938. When did you begin racing motorcycles?
A. I started to ride when I was eleven or twelve years old. I started racing 125s in club events when I was thirteen or thereabouts. I was riding a BSA Bantam when the two stroke thing started; I used to ride some of my mate's 350s or something on occasion. In those days you had to have a street license to get a race license in Australia and you couldn't get a street license until you were sixteen years old. My father had a contract with the Australian army to repair their Harley's and when I left school, I worked in the shop. When I was fifteen I was working on Army Harleys and building my own race bikes. We applied for a special license so that I could road test motorcycles on the road in a one mile radius of the shop. They gave it to me, I don't know why. So at fifteen I had both a race license and a street license. I started to race professionally then. I was doing dirt track first and I was still only fifteen when I started to do roadracing. I raced all around Australia and the race at Bathhurst at Easter was the big race then. That was my first big roadrace.
For a while I raced what they called Clubmans -- modified streetbikes, not Superbikes, but you'd make your streetbike into a race bike and there I ran 350 and 500cc BSAs which were as quick as the latest Manx Nortons. And I rode a couple of guys' 125 Bantams in the 125 race. Then I progressed to a 350 Manx Norton and my dad and I built a 250 Manx Norton and I won a few 250 races on it. Then Honda sent out the 250 four cylinder and I raced that for five years (the very machine that hangs from the wall in Carruthers' home bar) in Australia before I came to Europe. With that I had a 500 Manx Norton and a friend's 125 MV and CR93 Honda that belonged to another friend of mine. The last three years in Australia I used to win almost every race. I'd win all five races on the card or something. At Bathurst I won all the races for two or three years in a row. The racing then in Australia was good - the race at Bathhurst was one of the most important races in the world, you should have seen the coverage it got in Motorcycle News.
Until I got the Honda I didn't race outside of New South Wales too much. When I got the Honda they wanted me to do all the different races. I was doing fifteen race meetings a year, something like that. My dad (Jack Carruthers, a former Speedway Sidecar champion in Australia) helped me and I had a garage out in back of my house where I worked on the bikes. I was married to my wife Jan when I was young and bought a house young and had kids young. I was like twenty-one. My father helped me and encouraged me and really, sponsored me when I was a kid.
Q. Then on to Europe, with three generations of Carruthers going there first, right?
A. The whole family went the first year. Jan, the kids and my mom and dad. My mom and dad stayed the first year and then they went back to Australia and my dad closed his business and retired, or semi-retired.
Q. You were working the entire time you were racing in Australia, correct? Working a job and racing and tuning all your own equipment, right?
A. Yeah, I worked in my father's motorcycle business. He had a contract with the army and we did all their engines and things like that. Wasn't much money in (Australian racing), the purses were practically nothing. I got reasonable bonuses and stuff and in the beginning Avon supplied the tires and after they dropped out Dunlop supplied tires. I mean it wasn't much money, but then nothing cost a lot of money in those days.
Q. Your goal in Europe had to be getting on one of the few factory teams.
A. Right. That's what we set out to do, the first step is doing well as a privateer. (A waiter sets Kel's salad down in front of him, sans silverware. Carruthers quickly asks, "got any eatin' iron?")
Of course, the first two years that I was in Europe was the last two years that all the factories competed. After than in the big classes it was only Ago and the MV, but in the smaller classes the Suzukis and them were still there. That means the pickings were pretty thin. The second year in Europe I ordered a 350 Aermacchi, figuring I'd break out of the 350 Norton mold, do something different. I went to Italy and did a couple of races early in the year and the Aermacchi factory wasn't able to supply complete bikes that early but they supplied me with an engine and I bought a Rickman frame, Fontana wheels and Ceriani forks and I built myself a 350 Aermacchi. I don't remember getting beat by a privateer in the 350 class that year. In all the international rounds and world championship races ... well, okay, one or two races, I was the first privateer and I finished sixth or something in the 350 world championship. I was the first one behind the factory bikes. The 125 I did good, the 500 Norton, I did not do too bad. The next year I had more or less the same equipment except the Aermacchi factory supplied me with a special engine. This one was a standard bore and stroke but it had bigger carburetors. Again that year I finished well, the top privateer--third, in fact, in the 350 world championship.
At the end of 1968, I got an offer to ride the 350 MV at Monza. And as it turned out, they wanted (Mike) Hailwood to ride it and Honda wouldn't release him from his contract. That was the year he couldn't race Grand Prixs and could only do private races. I had a telegram to come to Italy to the factory because they wanted me to ride the 350 at Monza and when I arrived there, Honda had released Hailwood from his contract so he got the ride instead of me. In the end he didn't ride it anyway because Agostini had to win and he would have had to finish second. So he refused. In the meantime Aermacchi loaned me a factory 350 for Monza and for the next year, 1969, I signed a contract with Aermacchi to ride 125, 350 and 500, all Aermacchi. All three classes because in those days the more classes you rode, the more money you made. You'd ride at least two and if they asked you'd ride three because you got more money.
It made for a busy weekend and I never had a mechanic, per se. I'd have a helper but that's about all I had. It was good--wife, kids in the pit area, caravan to the races, everybody was friendly, having fun. (Carruthers face reveals an expression that if he had an opportunity to return to those day now, he'd do so in an instant.) I had three bikes and a spare engine for each and the Aermacchi factory didn't go to all the races but the ones they went to they would bring me a spare engine and I would just change engines. I did really well on the Aermacchi's during the first part of the season in the Italian races, got second to Ago in Spain in the 350 class. I led it most of the way because it rained but then it dried and he caught me. Then I went to the Isle of Man which was the fourth race of the season and Pasolini had been injured and the Benelli brothers asked me if I would ride the 250. So I rode that and won the Isle of Man and they signed me a contract through the end of the year.
Q. You didn't ride the first three races of the 250 season, correct?
A. Yes, I only did eight of the eleven races.
Q. So it was tough going in.
A. Yeah, and they signed me up basically as back-up for Pasolini, to help him. So I did what I was supposed to do and I helped him out because I knew some of the circuits better than him and I was as fast as him at most circuits. Then in Finland he crashed, again, which meant there were three races left. The way it looked I had to win two of the next races and get a second or three wins and I ended up getting two wins and a second and won the championship.
During the off season I went home and it happened that was the last year of the four cylinder 250s for Benelli and they were going to run 350s the next year-- so I went home expecting to ride Benelli's the next year. Happens that they had a big strike around Christmas time in Italy and all of Italy closed down. Benelli wrote me and said 'sorry we won't be able to build bikes, just enough for Pasolini.'
So I got a pair of Yamahas for 1970. I got them in America and when I came here to pick them up, I rode (Don) Vesco's Yamahas at Daytona. I won the 250 race and was in front of eventual winner Bugsy Mann in the 750 race when the crank went out. I told Vesco, before the race, 'When are we going to put the new crank in?' He said, 'Oh, it'll be all right.' 'No it won't,' I said, 'It might not even do two hundred miles. We'd better put in a new crank.' He kept saying, 'No, it'll be all right.' It went about a hundred miles and it went out.
So I went on to Europe and in the 350 class Pasolini crashed early in the season and they asked me if I wanted to ride it. I rode it at the Nurburgring and Yugoslavia and I got second to Ago in both of the races. At the Isle of Man I rode it and the chain fell off and then I told (Benelli) ... no, this isn't working out. I rode the Yamaha the rest of the year and ended up second in the 250 and 350 world championships with Yamaha.
I should have walked the 250, I mean, the year before I was kind of lucky to win it because everything was against me. In 1970 ... if I didn't win I was leading the race when it broke. The factory riders--Gould and Anderson, had electronic ignition and six speed gear boxes. I had a five speed gear box and contact breaker ignition and four times it broke --the contact breaker--three times on the last lap. Jan would hold out the board with last lap on it and (<<I>> Carruthers laughs<<I>>) the bike could read the damn pit board because then it would break! I won some big races that year--I won the Isle of Man, I won the Nurburgring and the Ulster Grand Prix. Then, you know, the Isle of Man was more important than the world championship.
So I won that back to back two years in a row.
The scene then at the Isle of Man? Well, we were used to it, you know? It's different now cause they're all piddly little racetracks. They're all second and third gear corners. They're like two and a half miles around, or something like that. When we used to race the Isle of Man was thirty-seven miles around; the Nurburgring was fourteen miles around; the Belgian was, I think, ten miles around; the Ulster was about six; Brno was about eight miles around; Germany was six miles around. The Dutch (Assen) was a lot like it is now except it was a long circuit. Spain, Madrid, was the smallest track we rode on more or less. Most of the other tracks were road circuits. That's what you raced on, it was all just normal roads and slippery or whatever. And we raced every weekend, world championship or other meets.
Q. Breaking down on the back section of those long tracks meant waiting for the sweep crews to come and get you, eh?
A. Yeah, and hope somebody had your bike ready for the next race.
Q. What brought you to America from racing world championship GPs?
A. Well, Vesco said when you're tired of Europe, you could come race here and run the team out of his shop. At the end of 1970 I came here and Don bought a pair of Yamahas and I bought a pair, two 250s and two 350s. We kept them at his shop and he carted them around. I used his workshop and his dyno and everything. Also I built Cal Rayborn's 250 as well. I did the first year and it was good, I won all the 250 races, won Road Atlanta - my 350 against all the 750s, got second at Ontario. I think, I only did seven roadraces and I ended up fifth in the Grand National championship which was, what, thirty dirt tracks in those days?
I got beat by a hair by John Cooper at the last race of the year. He was on the 750 BSA, I led him to the last corner and he beat me to the finish line. I said, well, that's it, I'm not racing a 350 Yamaha again. Kawasaki offered me a factory ride on the three cylinder, the triple. And Yamaha said they'd pay the same money. I decided it was better to ride the Yamaha than the Kawasaki. They signed DuHamel (<<I>>Miguel's father, Yvon<<I>>) to ride the Kawasaki and I rode the Yamaha, because I got good money for those days. I wasn't going to ride that Kawasaki (shakes his head). Damn things.
Q. What was good money, then?
A. Well, this was in the early seventies, okay? Yamaha paid me forty thousand dollars. (long pause) The Harley-Davidson factory riders got a thousand dollars a month, Lawill and all those guys. I did (just) roadraces and they did the roadraces and the dirt tracks.
One of my jobs at Yamaha was to teach Kenny Roberts roadracing and look after his bikes.
Q. Ah yes. Yes, please do tell us about that time.
A. We were both riding at that time. 1972 was his first year as an expert. I built his bikes. 1973 I signed a contract with Yamaha to run their race team, I started a workshop in El Cajon; I supplied the mechanics and the transporter and they supplied the bikes and the equipment and the riders. They had Roberts, Romero ... a lot of different riders at the time ... Castro. 1973 was my last year riding. I was just so busy it wasn't true. The 700s came out in 1974, so, yeah, it was 1973 that was my last year. (Jarno) Saarinen rode my spare bike at Daytona and won it and I got second. I won Talladega, then got second at Road Atlanta, so it was one of me best years actually. Talladega I think I did three laps practice. Kenny rode it to make sure everything was all right because I didn't have time to ride it. Daytona I didn't go out in the Sunday morning practice because I was working on the re-fueling rig and all that stuff. And in the end, Yamaha just said, 'hey, forget it,' you know? 'We'd rather you just look after all the racing stuff for us,' so I quit.
I had a pretty good run. I never went to the hospital. I broke me wrist when I was sixteen, dirt tracking. Other than that, roadracing, I never went to the hospital, never broke a leg or an arm or got a concussion. And I didn't go slow.
Q. Back to Roberts. Your thoughts when you first saw him ride?
A. Well he was doing good straight away. He was winning ... actually, he wasn't (doing well). There was a young kid, (Rusty) Bradley on a three cylinder Kawasaki at most of the races. But Kenny was the Yamaha kid, you know.
He was good. You don't really teach guys to race. You can guide them and they learn riding with people. I think you can either do it or you can't, more or less. Some people are good and they get better but the real good ones can do it pretty natural. I knew when I was a kid ... I could tell a difference between what I did and what other guys did. It's kind of instinct. But it's a judgment thing. On a (modern) 500, the skill now is in controlling it, braking and getting it turned, controlling it out of the corners. Everything is pretty slow. Okay, the bikes are fast and they accelerate but when I was racing it was like ... some of the tracks were like highways and it wasn't wide open but it was really fast. It was sort of judgment stuff, you were doing a hundred and forty mile an hour and you were going from one side of the road to the other. If you didn't do it dead right, you were in big trouble. After you went two or three (high speed bends), on the fourth one, you were in big big trouble if you had it wrong. Either that or you just shut it off. Which is why at the Isle of Man and places the really good guys would just disappear, I think it was in `69 that I won the 250 race by nearly five minutes or something like that. It was so fast and there were so many sequences that you are just doing it; if you can think of some highway you know that's super fast and you have to judge from one curve to the next. It's not stopping and turning and accelerating like it is now.
It's different now, the bikes, tires, everything, but even the concept of racing when I raced was different.
We went on to Europe, me, Kenny and Yamaha America. How it came about I'm not really too sure, I'm not sure if Kenny wanted to go to Europe or Yamaha just wanted to go. The Yamaha dirt track thing had turned pretty bad so in the end Yamaha America wanted to go and they would supply him with a factory 500. I said I'd go to look after him (Roberts).
It's another one of those things--I said I was going to go for one year and stayed for 17. I took my 250 that he had raced in America and employed two mechanics. It was all financed by America (Yamaha). They paid me, they paid Kenny. They got me a budget to run the race team. Of course Kenny won the championship and the next year he won it again and then the factory more or less decided that they'd give up the factory team and let me run the factory team. So I ran the factory team and was contracted to Japan and basically I had Kenny as a rider and we had mechanics and one engineer from Japan. We had one transporter and away we went. We did that until Agostini came a long with the Marlboro money and he worked a deal with Yamaha where he would pay all the expenses. So I did the same thing with Agostini in Italy. From then on I was just kind of an engineer in charge and I didn't have to worry about the money and all that I used to have to worry about.
Q. Lawson, Roberts, Crosby and others have not come away from their business relationship with Giacamo Agostini singing his praises. But the two of you seem to be close and have worked together many times. I'd like to hear your thoughts on Ago as a team manager and as a rider.
A. Agostini is the best guy in Europe.
He's one of those guys who doesn't throw his money around, which a lot of people take as bad. He's one of those guys you sit down and you work your contract out and he'll fight you all the way on the contract. But once you have the contract done, hey, everything's cool from there on in. It's like, this is what we're doing and this is how we agreed it would be done. He doesn't cheat you or give you a hard time. With me particularly, I used to run his race team, I could do anything I wanted, he's my friend and my boss but whatever we needed to have done, I'd say this is what we need. Besides, he was always in the office upstairs and I'd do all the engineering and all that stuff.
A lot of the misunderstanding I think (with Ago) stems from the fact that riders have managers, and half the time the riders don't even know what their contracts say. Once they don't like what's happening, they see Ago as the guy responsible.
Yeah, some of the others weren't too happy with him but to me he is the fairest guy over there and you can trust him with your life.
Ago had it easy for a long while as a rider. Sometimes he'd win races by a lap almost and he won a lot of his championships like that, but I think he was a lot better than some people give him credit for. When he had to race Hailwood he was doing it, you know? He won a lot of championships on merit and he won some because they were just given to him because he had the only decent bike in the race.
Q. When you raced at Benelli you got to know the brothers (that owned the company) fairly well, right?
A. Well, yes and no. I didn't know them until I rode for them and really the brothers didn't have too much to do with the racing team, they had a team manager who took care of all that. Actually, I got along good with old Nino Benelli, he was the older brother and he went to all the races. He had a desk at the factory but he didn't do any work, he just went to the races.
Q. It's good work if you can get it. But it is said that when you went to Cagiva to work for Ago on the Grand Prix team, you saw people working in the race shop at Cagiva that you'd worked with when you were riding.
A. The Cagiva factory used to be the Aermacchi factory so when I went to Cagiva, (Ezio) Mascheroni and those guys were Aermacchi guys. I used to go to the Aermacchi factory all the time. Mascheroni wasn't the chief engineer but he was the head mechanic at Aermacchi and Milani was the one of the factory riders and he is still there. So I knew some of the guys going in, yes.
As for Cagiva, it's just a pity they pulled out. The bikes were good and Ago and I had a good relationship with them.
Q. Regarding the Agostini Marlboro team, the B rider, the second rider on that team seemed to be cursed for over a decade. Talented riders like Roche, Rob McElnea, Didier de Radigues, Niall Mackenzie and others couldn't seem to win races. Why was that-- were the bikes so drastically different between the A rider and the B rider?
A. No, the bikes were the same. Rob McElnea got a number of top six finishes. The thing was we had Kenny and then we had Eddie which was fortunate ... I mean how things turn out. Eddie came because Kenny wanted Eddie and they had the same manager and ... and then Kenny was to retire. Eddie did pretty good, especially since the bikes were bad. They were the worst bikes Yamaha built the first year that Eddie was in Europe, 83. But in 84 the bikes were pretty good and Eddie just clicked and we won the world championship.
The second rider on that team was always a commercial thing. With Marlboro, a certain amount of money came out of Switzerland and then when we had Virginio Ferrari. his money came out of Marlboro Italy. And then when we had McElnea we had Marlboro money that came out of England; and when we had Didier, Marlboro France put the money in. In some respects it was the best available rider of that nationality who wasn't signed up. And yes, Virginio did have a bad year, fell off a couple of times that year but Didier did pretty good and Rob did good. I mean, it's like, if Eddie didn't win, it was bad. But if Didier or Rob finished third, fourth, fifth, that was good 'cause that was good for them. And with Didier we got a first and a second a couple of times. And Rob, so many times was like, fourth, inches away from third. But for Rob that was good because he was such a big guy. He was always complaining that his bike was slow. Hell, his bike was always the same as Eddie's, only it had a tooth bigger on the back.
Q. Here's another now versus then question. In the eighties did you run the 500s right out of the crate essentially stock?
A. No. Back then the Yamaha factory did all the testing and we'd get the bikes and pretty much pull them apart immediately. Because in some respects they were still learning. I mean, when I first went to Europe the engineer didn't come to Europe to help me -- he came to Europe so I could teach the engineer how to be an engineer. They were just young guys, like Mike Maekawa, he was the Yamaha racing engineer on scene at the GPs for a long time. He's moved out of racing now, but in 1973 I went to Japan for the Yamaha festival thing where they just had the new 350s for us to ride. Johnny Cecotto and Stevie Baker were there and the Japanese had their own factory bikes. It was supposed to be a demonstration but it wasn't, it was a race. They didn't have that many mechanics so they gave me this new engineer as my mechanic to help me. That was Maekawa. He was just this young guy starting at the factory and he was my mechanic when I went there for this demonstration. From there on I'd get maybe two new engineers a year and some wanted to stay longer to learn the whole business.
But, yeah, they just didn't know. They were engineers and they didn't know anything about GP racing. Now of course it's hard to tell them anything.
Q. In 1990 you told me that even though the 1989 season with Freddie Spencer was one of the most trying of your career as a tuner, you came away for a lot of respect for Spencer. Do you still feel that way?
A. Freddie had been retired for, what, a year? And Eddie had dumped us, or done the dirty on us at the end of the year and we were left without a rider. I talked to Freddie at a car race down in San Diego and asked if he was interested. He came and he was overweight and just out of shape a bit. He did not a lot of testing because we didn't have the bikes but he did real good in Japan and then he ran off the track, he got going again and finished. Then in Australia he was sitting in fourth and he was catching the leaders at a half second a lap and I was thinking that he was going to make it, then he fell off the thing.
From there on it was like he never quite got with it. And, surprisingly enough, that was the year that we had a lot of crankshaft problems. That was the one year that Yamaha was getting their cranks built outside of the race department and it was just a bad year. He just ... he just never clicked.
But, I got along fine with him. He's a different guy, no doubt about that. But I got a long with him all right.
Did I ever feel like I knew him? No. I'd go there sometimes and he'd go in the motorhome and I'd say, 'okay, I'll come in a little bit and talk about what we need to do.' And I'd go and I'd ding on the bell and he had a little camera on the motorhome so he could see who was at the door. I'd ding on the bell for five minutes and nothing would happen, so you'd walk away. That's just not right. And then sometimes I'd go in there and he'd want me to stay and I'd say 'Freddie I've got to go, I've got to work on the bikes' but he wanted me to stay, then. It was like night and day. He would just change completely.
And the biggest thing was that he wanted to make the Yamaha into a Honda all the time, he wanted the Yamaha to do all the things that the Honda did.
But he was all right, it was just disappointing that he never really got it going after that.
That year, before England, he and Ago just came to agreement to stop. And it was funny because we had been doing a bit of testing with Freddie before then because he was a pretty good test rider. Before Donington I chopped the front end off the Yamaha. Can you imagine doing that with Honda? With Yamaha I could do anything I wanted and if I'd done something, screwed up, they'd just laugh. "Kel-san you screw up."
I'd cut the front off the frame and put it back on at a different angle and to this day that's all that they (Yamaha) have been using, pretty much. And we went to Donington and God, Mackenzie damn near won the race from nowhere. He got in front and faded like he used to. And Cadalora qualified on the front row the very first time he rode a 500. So at least we did something that year. But it wasn't a good year.
Q. Have you put that whole Eddie Lawson 1989 situation behind you now? Have you let bygones be bygones, the two of you?
A. No, he still doesn't talk to me, basically. I mean, I say hi to him ...
That was one of those deals that was like he wanted to leave and Eddie's one of those guys that's gotta blame somebody for everything. Eddie doesn't have many friends--he's got a lot of admirers but not many friends. I was one of his best friends. And then all of a sudden it was like ...right 'til the day that he flew home with me from Japan ... after that he didn't talk to me. We flew home together, on the train together and everything was fine. The next time I saw him he stood two feet from me and wouldn't talk to me. He wouldn't say boo to me.
It was all in the papers that he left because he wasn't getting along with my family, that was the reason he left Yamaha. So I called him on the phone and he said, no, it had nothing to do with that but (he) was talking to the press and (his) girlfriend said this and that.' He said, 'Don't worry about it.'
I said, 'Well, hey, I have my wife in tears here. Why don't you tell the press that wasn't the reason?' 'Oh, no,' he said, 'it'll go away.' He didn't want to make himself look bad or anything.
To this day I say, 'Hey, how's it going Ed' when I see him, and that's it. It's all weird.
Q. Cagiva, while you were there, got their fuel injection system working well. Can you tell us about it?
A. We tested it at Mugello a few times and the first few times that I was there they tested it and they were having problems and they had the guys from Tag working on it. They were there and eventually they got it sorted out and the last couple of times we tested with Cagiva, Doug Chandler rode it and the laps times were really the same. It felt different, (to Chandler) like it almost needed a different ratio throttle, like the slide was doing this and the butterfly was doing that. It was like the response between the throttle and the engine felt different to the rider. But it worked fine.
Q. As a tuner do you have any riders that you regret not being able to work with? Kevin Schwantz would top that list I'd imagine.
A. So many times Schwantz was going to come with us but he could never quite get with Agostini to work things out. I had a contract ready to sign to go with Suzuki and I couldn't get out of my contract with Cardus. Actually (Carlos Cardus) said I could go, so I did all the ground work with Suzuki and we came to terms and it was a go. I went to Spain for the last race of the year and that was going to be my last race with Cardus. Honda told Cardus that if I wasn't on the team they weren't going to give him the good bikes, factory bikes for the following year. So he said, 'I've got you under contract, you ain't going anywhere.' And me being stupid thinking a contract is a contract, I stayed. Which I come to find out contracts don't mean a damn thing. I should have just walked away. In fact I was going from Spain to a press conference in England to do the Suzuki deal and I had to call them up and tell them it looks like it's not on. Kevin's dad would call me like every day and we were trying to get it sorted out. In the end I had to tell them to forget it and they signed (Stuart) Shenton to look after Kevin.
Q. Since you've worked with both Yamaha and Honda's racing departments, can you offer some insight as to the differences between the two and their approach to racing?
A. When I ran Yamaha's race program in America, I did a lot of development work on the 250, 350 and 750 for the factory. In Europe, I ran their race team and continued to do development on the 500. The factory regarded me as being one of their development engineers. If I did or suggested something good then they were happy. If something wasn't so good, that was okay too. With Honda all of the development is done in Japan and Honda would prefer that their factory bike remain as delivered to the teams.
Q. Why is Yamaha so insistent on trying disc-valve motors in their 250 and why aren't they having much success with it?
A. I haven't had anything to do with the 250 Yamahas for many years so I'm not familiar with their latest engines. Their reed-valve engine is now very good and I understand they are still not very happy with their disc-valve engine. Why, I don't know. I guess it's possible that the Aprilia engineers are the only ones right now who are getting the results out of those engines.